Eugene Holland. Nomad Citizenship.

Eugene W. Holland. Nomad Citizenship: Free-Market Communism and the Slow-Motion General Strike (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2011).

Holland’s work is in the same general autonomist tradition of analysis as Dyer-Witheford’s Cyber-Marx, and the concept of “Exodus” as developed in Negri’s and Hardt’s Commonwealth. The general idea of Exodus is that, when technology makes physical capital and money capital increasingly irrelevant to the production process, and when at the same time it makes the social relationships and human capital of working people in their community at large the main value-creating asset, it becomes feasible for working people to create a post-capitalist successor society not by contesting capitalist control over existing institutions but by simply bypassing them.

Like Hardt and Negri, Holland is heavily influenced by the Continental tradition, and his sometimes dense prose reflects that influence. Nevertheless the book is readable, and well worth the effort of struggling through the Continental jargon.

The three general concepts in Holland’s title — Nomad Citizenship, Free-Market Communism, and the Slow-Motion General Strike — are a good series of headings under which to examine his work.

Nomad Citizenship. Holland proposes “nomad citizenship” as a way of deterritorializing citizenship and organizing citizenship functions outside the state. Nomad citizenship belongs in the larger category of non-territorial platforms, based on networked digital communications, as the (fictional) phyles in Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, and the real-world attempt at phyles as described in the written work of David De Ugarte and prototyped in the Las Indias Cooperative Group.

As Holland describes it:

…[T]he point of combining nomadism with citizenship… is to smash the State’s territorializing monopoly on belonging and redistribute it globally, in alternative or minor forms of sociality both within and beyond the boundaries of the State….

A question inevitably arises, however: why keep the term citizenship at all, if the point is to radically detach it from the nation-State? For one thing, citizenship defined in relation to the nation-State is, in historical terms, a fairly recent and specific version of a much broader phenomenon, often involving cities or municipalities instead of states.

The most urgent reason to retain the term “citizenship,” Holland argues, “is to break the State’s despotic command over social belonging.”

Besides deterritorialization, Holland’s nomad citizenship—like the phyle—is associated with networks and virtual communities.

Can virtual communities and anonymous trading networks institute forms of distributed decision making and collective intelligence, establishing and occupying a new earth on the self-organizing plane of a world market free from capitalism’s infinite debt?

In the nomad citizenship model, the form of networked organization resembles David Graeber’s anarchist concept of “horizontalism,” as well as being reminiscent of Saint-Simon’s “replacing the government of persons with the administration of things”:

Looking back from our present-day “information society,” it is easy to see that much of [Mary Parker] Follett’s importance and influence stems from her very early recommendation that “fact-control” would become far more crucial than “man-control,” that the management of information would become at least as important as the management of people. The importance of information management is in turn related to what Follett called the principle of depersonalization. One instance of this principle we have already seen: important functions are no longer the permanent prerogative of an individual figure (such as a conductor or CEO) but instead circulate among members of the group. Even more important, authority in a given situation… does not reside in an individual or a position but in the situation itself: “One person should not give orders to another person,” she insisted, “but both should agree to take their orders from the situation.”… In a prescient formulation of what we now call bottom-up or emergent self-organization, she maintained that “legitimate authority flows from co-ordination, not co-ordination from authority.”

Holland also describes nomad citizenship as “deconstruct[ing] the boundaries that separate the State from civil society,” in much the same way that Proudhon (in The General Idea of the Revolution in the XIX Century) envisioned dissolving the state into the social body.

Holland’s nomad citizenship—again, like the phyle—is an organizational framework for supporting economic secession from neoliberal capitalism. Hence it is paired with two other concepts: “free market communism” and “the slow-motion general strike.”

Free-Market Communism. The “free-market communism” practiced by nomad citizens, networked in associations to participate in a non-capitalist world market, is characterized by microfinance/microcredit, currency as a means of exchange rather than a store of value, a regard for the common good of nomad citizens, distributed intelligence, and the replacement of capitalist ownership and wage labor with the cooperative organization of production.

There are two key components to the concept of free-market communism. The first is

freeing markets from antimarket forces that control market dynamics through the exercise of political and/or economic power-over. Though political control over markets has been important historically (and to a considerable extent remains in force to this day), it is now the economic power of concentrated capital itself that exerts undue control over markets by actively setting prices unilaterally rather than passively accepting prices set by immanent market self-organization. This is most notoriously.. true of the labor market where the process of primitive accumulation-destitution gives capital undue power-over labor contracts and thus the ability to effectively set wages.

(We should note here that this price-setting power of monopoly capital is only sustainable thanks to the ongoing political intervention of the state, and would evaporate in fairly short order absent things like socialization of operating costs, “intellectual property,” enforcement of title to engrossed land and resources, restrictions on the free migration of labor, and so forth.)

The other key component is an “orientation to the Common Good.” Rather than the state “acting in the name of society” to impose an idea of the common good, the common good is constantly approximated and adjusted “through the distributed decision making and collective intelligence of a truly free, communist free market.”

Self-management and cooperative ownership figure prominently in Holland’s vision of a communist free market.

…immanently self-organizing work groups, also known in this context as production cooperatives…. Only self-organizing—that is, self-managed and self-owned—production cooperatives put an end to both the exploitation and the alienation entailed in wage slavery as well as the subordination and alienation entailed in (even socialist) State citizenship.

Free-market communism, then, forms a multiplicity of multiplicities….. The groups themselves self-organize immanently, of course, but they also provide an alternative means of self-provisioning outside the circuits of capitalist labor markets and retail markets. These groups are interconnected, then, by truly free—and, where possible, digitally enhanced—nomad markets: markets that are free from the imposed standards of labor value and the infinite debt and that provide distributed-intelligence collective decision-making procedures that arrive at…the Common Good horizontally or bottom up rather than top down…. At the same time, free-market communism salvages the “general social knowledge” embedded in fixed capital, mobilizing it in the pursuit of aggregated Common Good rather than for the sake of private capital accumulation.

The Slow-Motion General Strike. Holland, referring to Walter Benjamin’s analysis of the general strike, treats it as a means of seceding from the system rather than changing it.

Most forms of rebellion… repeat the alegitimate violence accompanying the founding of any new social order in their attempt to overthrow the old. Most strikes, meanwhile, are also violent…, inasmuch as they seek to extort benefits from and within the existing social order. The general strike is exceptional for Benjamin: it is not violent because it is not an act; it is a nonact, a refusal to act (and a refusal to extort), a withdrawal of labor; it is a concerted disengagement from, rather a violent counterengagement against, the old social order…. However, for the general strike to point to some kind of strategy rather than remain just an eternal ideal or a short-lived symbolic gesture, there would have to be some way to sustain such a strike. This is one index of the importance of identifying and exploring viable and actually existing alternatives to the capitalist domination of the market economy….

Conclusion. From an anarchist standpoint, Holland’s nomad citizenship is a synthesis of James Scott’s “Zomian” model of secession in The Art of Not Being Governed, achieved by physically retiring to relatively ungovernable territorial areas (“non-state spaces”), with the latest in liberatory technologies. It should be an encouraging read for anyone involved in non-insurrectionist anarchist traditions focused on prefigurative politics and counter-institution building, and belongs on the shelf beside the above-mentioned works of Hardt and Negri and Dyer-Witheford, as well as Paul Mason’s Post-Capitalism.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory